Labour Day Magic Needs No Explanation
I’m ashamed to say this as a passionate CFL lifer, but I’ve never really understood the Labour Day lore. I’m a realist, so I look at every game with equal opportunity to improve, advance in the standings and continue personal improvement. The idea we circle one weekend somewhat arbitrarily and assign a higher value has never matched my mind's compass.
That’s right, I have dared call into question one of the holiest dates on the CFL calendar, but that’s the thing I have learnt about Labour Day Weekend across the CFL, it requires no explanation, guidance or reality check. This weekend and these games have a certain magic about them which far outweighs their equal value to the win column of any other week and more often than not create memories - personal in the stands and professional on the field - which last a lifetime.
Perhaps we say ‘the season doesn’t truly begin until we hit Labour Day’ as a unique Canadian way of framing that every game becomes more pressure packed down the stretch run of the regular season.
Maybe Labour Day means more to us because it’s the last hurrah of summer before we send the kids back to school and realize what real life feels like again after a brief reintroduction of a few months on what warmth of the sun, family and togetherness feels like.
It could even be that all levels of football return in September, joining the CFL on the global football stage. The second we turn the calendar from August to September, start to think about pulling that hoodie and windbreaker out of the closet and tuck away the flip flops our brains naturally transition to ‘football season’, despite the CFL already having played half of one in a normal year.
Whatever your reasoning might be for finding the Labour Day Classics holier than thou, don’t stop believing. If nothing else over the past two years I hope we have all come to appreciate the little things in life more, and Labour Day is a wild collection of little things that result in an unparalleled regular season fan experience.
As for the on-field action, the storylines are endless after a four week sprint to open the shortened 2021 CFL season.
In Ottawa Friday night the Redblacks and Alouettes will kick us off in a matchup of teams with something valuable to prove. Montreal looking to bounce back from a disappointing home opener loss 27-10 to Hamilton, while Ottawa struggled in their own home debut falling 24-12 to the BC Lions.
Both teams have quarterbacks fighting for consistency and production, feeling the pressure of their surroundings while trying to keep their head down and attack the job at hand. One team will come out of Friday with some clarity, the other with a mountain of questions heading to week six.
Sunday in Regina is a meeting of the CFL’s top two teams by any metric you choose. Saskatchewan has been the class of the league through the first month, with Winnipeg knocked down only by a somewhat befuddling loss on the road in Toronto week three.
The matchup here is Jefferson, Bighill, Jeffcoat and the Bombers defence against Cody Fajardo. The last time these two met Rider Nation was an upright *ding* away from making the trip West to Calgary for Fajardo’s first Grey Cup appearance as a starter. Instead Zach Collaros and the Bombers stole the game, the show and the cup forever altering their history.
Motivation and energy will not be an issue in this game, but the question becomes how Fajardo will operate the offence in what should be the first true test of his aerial attack in 2021.
On Labour Day Monday the Argos and Ticats meet in Hamilton for the first of four matchups in 2021, a series which appears early on, set to decide playoff seeding and home field advantage in the CFL’s East division.
For Argos QB Nick Arbuckle it’s all about establishing his rhythm and being accurate with the football as he was in his first double blue start and win against Winnipeg two weeks ago while Dane Evans looks to build on his impressive 2021 debut against Montreal.
Two future stars of the CFL, both wearing number nine and facing off in the QEW classic, it just feels right.
To end off Labour Day Weekend the Elks return to the field to take on Jake Maier and the Calgary Stampeders just a week after Maier had an extremely Trevor Harris feeling first half completing every pass attempted as he was a Rene Parades field goal away from starting 2-0.
For Harris and the Elks the challenge of a COVID-19 affected season has become crystal clear. Much of the continuity and chemistry created during training camp has been paused, but the Stampeders have no time to feel sorry for their provincial rivals with a 1-3 start sitting squarely at the bottom of the West division.
We all know the Grey Cup is king, the ultimate goal and unequivocal mountain top for which all players climb, but Labour Day is the crown jewel of the regular season, and the closest thing to playoff football until November. So sit back, relax and let the magic wash over you, all the while remembering to appreciate the little things that make Labour Day Weekend football in Canada so special.
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback at McMaster University now serving as CFP Founder, Host & Director of Content, play-by-play for the CFL on TSN, analyst for CFL.ca and dad to Noah.